After the previous American administration cancelled funding to the United Nations aid agency for the Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), the Biden administration announced yesterday that it is contributing US $150 million to the agency.
The restoration of funds comes after recent years of a severe financial crisis for UNRWA and it is not clear if the aid will be sufficient to cover its funding gap. The Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation, forcing the agency to manage its resources on a month-to-month basis due to unreliable funding.
From the time UNRWA was established in 1949 until 2018, the US was the largest funder of the agency but this role has been taken over by the EU and its member states.
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The US funding will support the overall UNRWA programme budget, the majority of which funds the operation of more than 700 schools educating over half a million children and almost 150 primary health clinics providing 8.5 million patient consultations a year, according to UNRWA.
The funding will also support emergency appeals to respond to the humanitarian challenges in Syria, the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem) and Gaza. These funds will support food, emergency cash assistance, emergency health, mental health and psychosocial support, education in emergencies, protection, water and sanitation, and Covid-19 response.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini expressed gratitude for the renewed UNRWA-US relationship and welcomed the funding disbursement. “The U.S. contribution comes at a critical moment, as we continue to adjust to the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic presents. We encourage all member states to contribute to UNRWA.”
Gaza and the West Bank remained relatively sheltered from Covid-19 in 2020 but have recently witnessed a sharp rise in the number of new infections while facing severe shortages of vaccines. In Gaza, a total lockdown was declared yesterday. The Gaza Strip, with close to 2 million inhabitants, has until now only received doses sufficient to vaccinate 41,000 persons according to media reports.
The Brussels Times